Mounting anxieties require self-control

“God of Carnage,” a 2009 Tony-garnering Broadway play, shares much in common with Eugene O’Neill’s 1928 Pulitzer-prize winning script, “Strange Interlude.” Both literary creations teach us something about ourselves while also impressing audiences as reflective of this time in which we live.

Their messages? Common decency and respect for others demand considerably more willpower than humanly possible. Cordiality is simply a shallow guise. Doubt and suspicion boil up and spew. Comedians seem not so funny lately as their monologues delve into the cynical and profane. Politicians attack the messenger, no longer the message. Poking fun morphs into backstabbing.

Most of us should admit our own guilt; we ourselves whisper, criticize, laugh at (not with) and condemn — either aloud or secretively. The recent production, starring Jeff Daniels and Marcia Gaye Harden, asks us to understand that responsible adults, when adequately frustrated, can revert to levels of immaturity lower than that of children. O’Neill’s Depression-era experimental offering presented characters’ inner thoughts through uttered asides following those superficial lines of dialogue, which smacked of civility — this device accomplished on-stage either via double-casting each role or using props called masks.

Harmony’s elusiveness pulsates beneath the surface these days. Prevalence of harboring free-floating, tormenting resentments may grow as uncertainty — regarding job security, health crises, insurance availability, decaying infrastructures and our collective future — generates mounting anxiety. Benjamin Franklin warned, “We must all hang together or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

How, though, do we survive without candor? The answer, “blowing in the wind,” probably lies in compassion.

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